Rembrandt’s Night Watch uncropped by AI 300 years after it was trimmed

A mixture of artificial intelligence and painstaking research has allowed researchers to restore Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Night Watch to its original size, the Associated Press reports, centuries after it was trimmed down to fit in a smaller wall. The work was conducted as part of the Operation Night Watch project, and the results are being exhibited in the Honor Gallery in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which sees the original painting flanked by printed strips filling in the lost sections.

The Night Watch was originally completed in 1642, after which it was hung in the club house of the civil militia it was based on. But 70 years later it was moved to a new location, where there wasn’t space for the whole painting and it was unceremoniously cropped to fit. A significant portion was removed from its left-hand side, along with slivers of its top, bottom, and right.

The painting, with its missing sides restored.
Image: Rijksmuseum

Although the missing pieces of canvas have never been recovered, AP reports that researchers were able to reconstruct them thanks to a smaller copy of the original painted at the time by Gerrit Lundens. Over the course of nearly two years, scans, X-rays and 528 digital exposures were taken of Rembrandt’s original painting to train an AI model to imitate Rembrandt’s style and fill in the blanks based on Lundens’ copy. “Rembrandt would have definitely done it more beautifully, but this comes very close,” museum director Taco Dibbits said.

It means that when visitors are able to view the restored painting over the coming months at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, they’ll be able to see new details in the margins of the painting. There are two new faces present on its left, where there’s also a small child which can be seen leaning on a railing, rather than simply running out of frame. The work sheds new light on the painting, over three hundreds years after the Dutch masterpiece was unceremoniously mangled.

If you’re not able to make it to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to view the work in person, the museum recently put out a high-resolution scan of the (cropped) painting, which is detailed enough that you can see its individual brushstrokes and cracks.

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